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“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

One of the unsavory facts about mold is its ability to lie dormant when food and moisture sources dry up, until conditions allow it to “bloom” again.  Scientists are finding out that there are other microbes that exhibit this same behavior, necessitating finding new ways to detect their presence.  

One of these is Acinetobacter Baumannii.  This superbug is usually present in wet environments, such as soil and mud, ponds, wetlands, wastewater, fish farms and seawater.  Healthy people can also carry the Acinetobacter bacteria on their skin, particularly if they work in a healthcare setting. It can survive for a long time on dry surfaces, making it difficult to eliminate. (Acinetobacter: What to know)  

Scientists have recently discovered a new state of “life” of this bacteria.  When living conditions become too stressful, many bacteria enter a dormant state that is almost death-like, showing no metabolic activity. These are known as spores. 

Acinetobacter baumannii can alternatively form special cells which are in a kind of deep sleep. Although these cells still show signs of life and breathe, it is no longer possible to cultivate them on culture media in Petri dishes. "We know this state from cholera bacteria, for example; it is referred to as the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state," explains Professor Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt.  (The deep slumber of a hospital pathogen: Why infections with Acinetobacter baumannii can flare up again and again)

As of the study date (September 2023), scientists have kept the acinetobacter in VBNC state for 11 months, and are still able to “wake them up” after 2 days of “rehab” with special nutrients and oxygen.  No end is in sight for the length of time these bacteria can hibernate.  

The danger is that courses of normal antibiotics and culture procedures (on a plate) can yield negative culture results, which would indicate that a patient is clear of such dangerous microbes.  However, VBNC cells can be hiding in nooks and crannies of the body, waiting to resurge when stress or antibiotics are removed  Tests like PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) can be used to detect VBNC cells because they identify specific genes that cause virulence and predict antibiotic resistance, but it’s probable that these are not used in smaller hospitals currently.

Acinetobacter Baumannii is not the only bacteria with “sleeper” capabilities; dormancy or persistence is just a “state” that many bacteria can occupy.  Mycobacterium smegmatis, which is related to the bacteria that causes pneumonia, was studied in 2013 and discovered that “persister” bacteria continued to divide and die even during antibiotic treatment so that the total number of bacteria stayed approximately the same.  The fact that the cells weren’t classically “dormant” but still continued to divide, makes them technically “dynamically resistant” to antibiotics, while other microbes use other techniques to evade death and can be labeled “tolerant, latent, indifferent, dormant and non-multiplying”.  (Sleeper cells – the secret lives of invincible bacteria) However, it all comes back to their ability to survive antibiotics, which is dangerous for us!

Here is some recent literature on other “sleeper cells”

Since persistent bacteria are difficult to kill with traditional antibiotics, scientists are pursuing several strategies to take them out.  One is to find ways to wake all of them up, so that they are easy to kill with accessible drugs.  The second is to discover what genes or proteins allow them to stay alive in sleep mode.  Some of these “upregulate” cell functions (like scavenging for iron), and some of them downregulate cell functions (like digestive functions).  A third tactic would be to look for drugs that kill the sleeper cells, not just active ones.  

To the layman, all this sounds like poking into a hibernating bear’s den with different sticks until you find one of the right length poking in the right place, and having the best gun or trap ready for when he wakes up!  The sad fact is that people regularly suffer from hosting these persistent bacteria in their bodies and we sincerely hope that scientists can find the right triggers in labs to find the combination of methods to help patients who need it.

Bacteria, mold and other microbes also populate our homes in the form of spores, persisting for years until the right moisture AND nutrients come along.  Although there is no “silver bullet” like an antibiotic to remove them completely, we can use the same principles to keep the population under control so that our bodies don’t suffer!

  • Clean regularly with non-toxic ingredients.  The less dust and dirt we allow to accumulate in our homes, the less microbe spores are lying around.  Check out our article on Tackling Dust in Your Home.

  • The FDA states that over-the-counter antibacterial hand soaps don’t protect us from disease any better than regular soap and water.  The cleansing action happens in the thorough agitation of soap and water over hands, and a good rinse with water.  Many “antibacterial” soaps also contain ingredients, like triclosan, which can be harmful to us over time.  

  • Since you can’t easily scrub and rinse items like your countertop or toilet seat with soap and water, however, different solutions need to be employed there.  Sure, you can get antibacterial cleaning sprays, but the same concerns apply: are they safe long-term?  Instead, opt for cleaners that are non-toxic and are less likely to create antibiotic resistance.  We’ve recommended the following cleaners for these reasons:

    • Our all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner TotalClean combines both copper and iodine, and when they are combined, they produce peroxide!  In simple terms, the peroxide acts as an “oxidizing agent”, destroying the means for bacteria to take in oxygen and suffocating them.  

    • The Honest Company Disinfecting Spray also uses hydrogen peroxide to clean, disinfect, and deodorize while meeting EPA’s criteria for products effective against SARS-CoV-2 and a laundry list of other germs.

    • Because hypochlorous acid is an oxidant, it leaves nothing behind for bacteria and viruses to create resistance to and therefore does not contribute to the superbug (multidrug-resistant organisms) dilemma.(The Role of Hypochlorous Acid in Managing Wounds: Reduction in Antibiotic Usage)   Hypochlorous is not bleach; in fact, it’s superior to bleach.  Some hypochlorous cleaners include Force of Nature and Clean Republic’s All Purpose Cleaner.

  • Of course, change your HVAC filter regularly so that spores do not find their way to your air handler’s evaporator coil, where moisture can allow them to reactivate.  We’ve got some great filters with activated carbon and MERV 10-14 ratings (for more on MERV, check out our article HVAC filter changes are vital to your indoor air quality

  • The technology in our bipolar ionizers like our Germ Defender, Upgraded Air Angel Mobile and Whole Home Polar Ionizer has been tested against bacteria such as E. coli, MRSA and C. diff (see test results here), so why not add them to your non-toxic cleaning arsenal as a passive way to keep the spores under control? 

There’s a lot about the microscopic world of bacteria and mold that we don’t know, and obsessing over it doesn’t help much!  Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to keep safe using non-toxic products and methods that are tried and true. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

What are Probiotics for the Air?

What are Probiotics for the Air?

Probiotics have been around for a long time, even millenia!  Probiotics are live, active microorganisms ingested to alter the gastrointestinal flora for health benefits. They often are referred to as good bacteria in the gut and compete with bad bacteria to support the body in establishing optimal digestion and aid immune function. (An Introduction to Probiotics)  Now, they didn’t always exist in “capsule” form.  In fact, if you look in  the refrigerated section of the grocery store, probiotics are the cultures found in kefir, kimchi (fermented cabbage), kombucha (a fermented tea), miso (a fermented soybean paste), pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh (another fermented soybean food) and yogurt.  The common thread of all these foods includes fermentation, which is the breaking down of organic substances through the action of enzymes.  Bacteria are the carriers of these enzymes, so as the fermentation occurs, these good bacteria increase.  When we ingest fermented foods, the bacteria populate our intestines for better digestion. (Check out our article on fermentation!)

Now that you know probiotics have been in foods since antiquity, probiotics for the air and surfaces in your home is a relatively new concept.  BetterAir was the first company to use probiotics in an air purifier.  According to BetterAir President Tom Staub, “Allergens, pathogens, germs etc. do not grow in the air, but are born and propagate on surfaces and objects.  Since they are microscopic they are then propelled into the air by minute movements of air such as the wave of a hand across a tabletop or fall off a foot upon stepping onto carpet.”  BetterAir’s proprietary probiotic formula consumes organic allergens often found inside the built environment like pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and dust mite fecal matter. Staub continues, “They also consume the food sources that germs and pathogens need in order to multiply and propagate thereby minimizing their presence. Fewer pathogens on surfaces and objects results in cleaner air, surfaces and objects. “ (BetterAir: The First Air Purification Device To Utilize Probiotics To Clean Your Home’s Air)

Considering that probiotics contain live bacteria, an air purifier that sprays them into the air may be, well, a little scary to some!  Rest assured, however; BetterAir’s proprietary formula’s active ingredient consists of naturally occurring (non-GMO), safe and effective Bacillus strains.  

Bacillus encompasses a large number of bacteria types, and some are harmful, but many are helpful, such as the medically useful antibiotics  produced by B. subtilis (bacitracin). (bacillus bacteria)  In order to produce and market Enviro-Biotics, BetterAir passed all the required tests by EPA standards at EPA-certified GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) labs, became EPA registered (94339-1, August 2021), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared Enviro-Biotics as GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe.  Finally, it has been certified by many government and private healthwatch organizations.  So, the liquid dispersed by BetterAir systems is safe for people, pets and plants.  

The following video screenshot shows how a petri dish treated with drops of Enviro-Biotics (right) forms a barrier that stops black mold from growing, unlike the untreated dish on the left.  This is visual proof of what their technology claims: microscopic sized Environmental Probiotics form a protective layer of microflora on all surfaces and objects, where the probiotics agents deny pathogens (mold and bacteria) access to nutrients (food), therefore obstructing and disabling growth of pathogens on these surfaces and objects.  In addition, and concurrently, Enviro-Biotics consumes harmful organic particles that are the source of allergies and diseases. Since dust and dander will be in every household to some extent, by introducing good bacteria, these allergens are used to feed the good and starve the bad bacteria.

Source: The Power of Enviro-Biotics

If your home is in an exceptionally dusty or polluted area, BetterAir has also combined a probiotic air purifier and a HEPA air purifier

Another way to use probiotics is to clean with them.   HomeBiotic has spray bottles for spritzing the air and surfaces that are smelly, which starves bad bacteria and protects from its regrowth for up to 5 days.  Their cleaning bundle has tablets that dissolve in water to make a non-toxic, powerful cleaning solution that is safe to the homebiotic bacteria they promote, and nano-sponges that clean without spreading germs around your home.  The tablets are made of washing sodas and citric acid, which are completely safe for people and pets. Citric acid in the right dose, for example, is an EPA-approved, non-toxic sanitizer that kills norovirus.  However, citric acid should not be used on natural stone or marble, wood, delicate surfaces or electronic screens because it may damage them.

Although probiotics are not a “silver bullet” for all airborne contaminants, they may help allergy sufferers and may help you to maintain health better when seasons change and new contaminants come into the home.  It’s like your gut: taking probiotic supplements feeds the good bacteria and doesn’t leave a lot of room for the bad to multiply out of control.  Therefore good effects of probiotics in the home depend on consistent use over a period of time, and avoiding chemicals like bleach that kill both good and bad bacteria indiscriminately. With new technology advancing everyday, it probably won’t be long before we can “see” exactly what is colonizing our homes and bodies, and then get tailored solutions to optimize it.  Since probiotics already live outside in the natural world (in soil, wood and other natural surfaces), like ions are present in fresh outdoor air, bringing probiotics indoors could be a good idea for keeping our homes healthy with natural methods and substances!

Can burning a candle really reduce the mold spore count in my home?

Can burning a candle really reduce the mold spore count in my home?

Candles are a super-popular home decor item, and they add to the ambiance of a home through their appearance and smell, making it cozy or sophisticated or elegant with the “snap” of a match or lighter.  Unfortunately, the VOCs and particulates aerosolized by most candles make them more of a health detriment than a plus.  Burning a candle against mold, however, is a new concept, and like so many other products, the benefits all depend on WHICH candle you’re burning!   

Several companies have formulated candles that actually reduce mold spore counts in the air while the candles burn.  Like the Bipolar Ionization technology, where ions are sent out into the air instead of using a “filter” to grab all pollutants, the flame of the candle is not the main part that kills mold spores.  For the EC3 Air Purification Candle by MicroBalance Health Products ($43 for 3), the flame melts the non-toxic soy wax and releases a proprietary natural blend of citrus seed extracts, that includes Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). (per the manufacturer’s answer to client question here).  The product is all natural and uses no petrol-chemicals, unlike traditional paraffin candles.  

In studies, GSE has been proven to be incredibly bactericidal even at minute dilutions: at 1:512 parts water to GSE, the extract kills gram negative and gram positive bacteria, yet is non-toxic to human cells. (The effectiveness of processed grapefruit-seed extract as an antibacterial agent: II. Mechanism of action and in vitro toxicity)

However, other studies are not so positive.  In this 1999 study, 6 commercial GSE formulations were tested and 5 of the 6 were very effective against 7 germs, including 1 yeast.  It turns out that these 5 GSEs also had traces of the synthetic antiseptic agent benzethonium chloride (a quat), while the 1 remaining GSE that contained no preservative, did not effectively eliminate the germs.  The study concluded “Thus, it is concluded that the potent as well as nearly universal antimicrobial activity being attributed to grapefruit seed extract is merely due to the synthetic preservative agents contained within. “  The American Botanical Council (proclaiming to be “your source for reliable herbal medicine information”) also confirmed, “A significant amount, and possibly a majority, of ingredients, dietary supplements and/or cosmetics labeled as or containing grapefruit seed extract (GFSE) is adulterated, and any observed antimicrobial activity is due to synthetic additives, not the grapefruit seed extract itself. “

Digging into studies on GSE against fungus found that these were mainly in liquid form.   This one showed it was effective against different types of fungus that affect asparagus plants, when used in conjunction with clove, Dahlia and Chrysanthemum extracts.   This study pitted GSE against candida (yeast) strains that tended to form a biofilm on denture resins, and it did very well.  Another study of GSE showed that it eliminated 3 Candida species that commonly infected patients with dentures.   This is great news for sufferers of oral candidiasis, but does aerosolizing citrus seed oil extracts (including GSE) work the same way?  

Although it’s not clear how citrus seed extract vapors attack mycotoxins, we did find that the EC3 candle was tested by RealTime Labs in 2012, with excellent results.  According to the letter from the lab (copied from this mold expert’s website), “Results showed that within 3 hrs of exposing the EC3 candle to known concentrations of mycotoxins, no mycotoxins were detected, if known levels of any mycotoxins were 250 ppb or below.  Concentrations of 500 to 1000 ppb were decreased by 90% in 3 hours…Given the experimental situation created in our laboratory, the EC3 candle will eliminate aflatoxins, ochratoxins, and trichothecenes at concentrations of 250 ppb or less and will reduce these toxins by 90% in 3 hrs at concentrations of 500 to 1000 ppb.”

Given that mycotoxins are hard to destroy (most are highly resistant to heat and antimicrobials), this is very good news.  MicroBalance Health Products, the maker of these candles, is an established company (founded in 2009) whose products are based on the work of Dr. Donald Dennis, a practicing Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon who discovered that mold was the culprit of many of his clients’ health issues.  The citrus extract blends he developed are also used in their body supplements (shown here in their free sinusitis wellness protocol), so it’s probable that the citrus seed extracts used in their products (not just the candle) are of great purity.  

Another company, CitriSafe, also uses citrus extract blends in their Remedy Maintenance Candle ($16 for 1 candle) and mold solution sprays, however I could not find any studies or testing data for them.  The research behind Citrisafe Remedy products and MicroBalance Health Products (as well as BioBalance) was developed by pharmacist Dr. Walter Hayhurst and JW Biava (founder and CEO of Immunolytics, a laboratory that tests for mold and mycotoxins) in the early 2000’s. (podcast with JW Biava), therefore it’s likely that the citrus extract blends in these products are very similar.

Both MicroBalance Health Products and Citrisafe recommend using their candles with a broader treatment plan for mold in your home, but if there’s a space you spend a lot of time but you have less control over, like your office or hotel room (if you travel a lot), the candles may help significantly to clean up the air in that space.  When it comes to mold, every little (non-toxic) bit of help is welcome!